David Smith, a sports reporter with the Evening Standard for nearly 30 years, has been made redundant in the latest cull of staff which will see the newly free London paper reduced to just four sports reporters in the new year, when it switches to later press times.
Smith follows Steve McKenley, the newspaper’s Sports Editor, who is understood to have left the paper about two weeks ago when plans for the “single-edition” Standard were first announced.
McKenley had joined the Standard relatively recently from London Lite, the freebie owned by Associated Newspapers and which has since closed. According to Doug Wills, the Standard‘s managing editor, the closure of the Lite, for which the Standard provided some sub-editing and other services and received substantial payments, is in part the reason for up to 20 jobs being cut, including five on sport.
Some Standard veterans are questioning whether sports coverage – traditionally an important sales driver for the old, multi-edition Standard, which would sell tens of thousands of copies outside Wimbledon, Lord’s or Epsom during the big sporting events in and around the capital – will have any significant role in the new, free version of the paper.
“If they are going to press each day around lunchtime, then what sporting news will they be able to carry that hasn’t already been in the nationals?” one former Standard sports reporter said. “Under Geordie Greig, the paper is becoming more like a magazine, with lengthy features in place of sports news and sport kicked off the back page to make way for ads.”
Wills refutes the suggestion that the Standard will be a single-edition paper, preferring to refer to the plans for an “all-afternoon print run”.
“From January 4,” Wills told sportsjournalists.co.uk, “we will be going to press just after 1pm each weekday, making major edition changes and updating through the afternoon.”
As previously reported, the production changes mean that the 4am starts so unloved of Standard staffers will become a thing of the past, as will the early, 11am editions which would carry overnight sports report and results from America, Australia and Asia, and updated race cards for that afternoon’s horse racing.
Wills maintained, however, that “Sport is hugely important for the Standard – it always has been and it always will be.
“We will be a real evening paper,” he said. “We have a superb team of writers and regular correspondents.”
Wills refused to confirm or deny any individual departures from the sports desk, although he did confirm that five sports desk jobs may go, including four sub-editors, and this would leave the paper with a sports reporting staff of four, including Chris Jones, the paper’s rugby correspondent, who will be covering Andy Murray’s progress at the Australian Open tennis for the paper from Melbourne in the new year.
With 2010 also bringing with it the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Commonwealth Games in Delhi, a European athletics championships and a month-long football World Cup in South Africa, all in addition to a burgeoning domestic sports programme, experienced media observers are expressing scepticism about how the stretched Standard sports staff will cope.
David Smith had been a stalwart of the sports desk since 1980. Most recently, he had covered motor racing, athletics, boxing and golf for the Standard. His departure leaves the newspaper without a specialist in F1 at a time when Britain will have two world champions in one team, without a boxing correspondent when a Londoner has just become world heavyweight boxing champion, and without a track and field expert with the countdown to the London 2012 Olympics well under way.
It was Smith who earlier this year, as a result of cut-backs at the newspaper, was asked to cover the Open golf championship on his own – when two or three writers might have been assigned in the past – and was given accommodation for the tournament in a caravan park.
The Standard was bought for £1 by Alexander Lebedev, a former KGB spy-turned-multi-millionaire, in May. In October, it sacrificed its 50p cover price in order to distribute 600,000 free copies daily. According to audited figures published today, however, it missed that distribution target in November, recording a daily average of 596,100.
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